Internet Of Things

There is a lot being written about the so called 'Internet of Things' or IOT.
Much is made of the wonderful advantages to consumers, including the 'smart home'.
As discussed below, however, the main advantage of IOT is to business.

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What is IOT?

Essentially this is a catch-all term that has been applied to the idea of being able to monitor and control all devices via the internet.
IOT is primarily about monitoring the usage and condition of a 'thing' (like a refrigerator, toaster, TV, toothbrush) and reporting back the information to the manufacturer. There may be an element of control involved, often via a mobile phone app.

The gathering of data about the device via the internet is a very strong driver for business as this data tells them all about customer preferences and usage. While this data will assist in product improvement it is mainly of interest to business for marketing purposes.

NOTE: While a lot of existing technologies in business such as machine health monitoring and building energy management are touted as due to IOT advances, these have actually been in place for decades. IOT pundits would like to take credit for as much technical potential as possible but most of these installations have operated without internet connection and do not need internet connection to function effectively. Machine control and building management are better handled on a private network that is more robust and secure.

How does it work?

Tiny sensors attached to the device are able to measure its functions and report these back via wireless internet to the manufacturer.
Control of the device is by wireless connection to the internet and a mobile phone app, an internet connected controller or a computer.
Data from the use of the device is processed and stored in the cloud to assist in performance optimisation but also to monitor customer useage.

For home use, much is made of the voice activated controllers made by Google, Apple, Amazon and others as an alternative to use of a mobile phone.
The mobile phone however can function as a remote controller when away from the home.

While performance optimisation promises some benefits, like 'perfect toast' or energy use reduction, essentially product use data linked to consumer details provides a deep and detailed marketing opportunity for businesses.

Where will IOT be used?

Essentially everywhere!
The intention would be that:

  • every item of stock in a store would be able to be tracked as an IOT item
  • every device in the home would be connected and monitored as an IOT device
  • every mode of transportation would have IOT tracking and measurement on many of the parts
  • every industrial machine would be monitored for performance
  • personal health would be monitored
  • city resources would be monitored and controlled

Examples of IOT

Some smart TVs

  • These are able to respond to voice commands so are monitoring conversations continuously.
  • Internet search can be done by voice command.

Smart Home

  • All lighting could be controlled for brightness, colour and on/off switching.
  • Entertainment could be produced in any room of the home on demand.
  • Heating and cooling services could be optimised for energy consumption and comfort.
  • Smart devices could place replacement orders directly to suppliers (such as a refrigerator ordering milk if the last bottle is low)
  • Security services could be integrated with all the above to provide stronger illusion of occupancy when the residence is empty
  • Voice control could operate all the above services with a phone app for remote control

Fitness Sensors

  • These are devices that are usually attached to the wrist and provide measurements that are supposed to monitor fitness.
  • They are usually associated with a fitness app on a mobile phone via Bluetooth wireless connection.
  • The sensors provide time, heart rate, number of steps and so on as health measurements.

In addition to providing fitness data to the user, the app would normally send user data to the manufacturer.
At present, these sensors have quite poor accuracy and would have to improve substantially to be relied on for worthwhile health monitoring.

Value of IOT

Here are a few suggested value points for IOT:

Support for Aged and Disabled

  • To have many of the functions of a home or other service controlled by voice could provide for a better quality of life.
  • Safety and security would also be enhanced as lighting, door access and communication would be improved.

Smart Homes

  • Ability to manage many functions in the home by voice or remote control.
  • Lighting, energy management, automated shopping, security devices and so on could all be managed and accessed remotely via the internet.

[What is not said is that all these functions could be accessed without using the internet and without compromising privacy or security by using local control. The only missing element would be remote control away from the home.]

Smart Cars

  • Data gathered on journeys taken, vehicle loading, fuel consumption, vehicle performance providing advanced maintenance data for vehicle servicing.
  • Future possibilities include autonomous vehicles that could reduce road congestion and reduce road accidents.

There is a question of privacy here where vehicle location and journeys can be associated with particular person.

Health Care
Gathering data from much of the population on

  • exercise
  • heart-rate
  • breathing
  • blood sugar

and so on can assist with disease research and management.

There are issues of privacy and ownership of personal health data if the health data is collected by a private company.
Equity issues may also arise if health data is used to determine health insurance rates or health provider access.

Problems with IOT

Accuracy

Consumer devices cannot have high accuracy sensing devices fitted due to cost constraints so there are chances of inappropriate responses to situations.

For Example:
Fitness monitors have been shown to have significant problems with measuring heart rates accurately. What happens if heart rate is excessive and not detected?
Motor vehicle components may be identified as about to fail but what if the prediction is too early or too late?

Location based services do not have high enough accuracy to be precise and have caused disputes with approximate locations seeming to indicate a person is not where they claim to be. (at school, at work, at a neighbour's house)

Security

Many IOT devices will have to be cheap to entice customers to use them. The low cost already has resulted in poor security measures. Essentially they are a tiny computer and control can be taken by a malicious attacker or they may be hijacked for malicious attacks on parts of the internet.
These types of incidents have already occurred.

Personal Safety

Malicious control of IOT devices may compromise personal safety. Cameras, speakers, smart TVs etc may be used to gather personal data, to harass or intimidate or to stalk. Incidents of this type have already occurred, especially in cases of domestic violence.

Privacy

The way that consumers run their life can be monitored by this technology. IOT enthusiasts have suggested that supermarket shoppers will be monitored for their location and movements via store position sensors that will communicate with their mobile phone via WiFi. They then can be tracked to their home address. Merging social media data and store data will make it possible to make targeted offers to customers to induce higher sales.

Inconvenience

What happens when the internet connection fails; Will my smart house have no lighting control, no door lock control or no heating/cooling?
Is it possible that a system fault with an internet account will disconnect my control of my home?
Who pays if the device security fails and the home is maliciously set to maximum energy use while I am away?
How does a visitor do simple tasks like lights on/off without being made a guest user via a phone app?

Cost

While there may be some benefits that may be attractive there are issues of cost to be considered.

With a huge amount of data being produced by the IOT devices the internet will have to carry a lot more data. It may be that this cost will eventually be placed on users, in any case will data required exceed your allowance on your internet plan? There is some speculation that alternatives may exist for businesses to use their own network to gather the data.

It is also interesting to consider the issue of businesses monetising personal data. Essentially users are 'giving away' their personal information and privacy for little gain. IOT devices are not really offering outstanding performance that could not be largely achieved by a 'stand alone' device (ie NOT connected to the internet) In reality perhaps users should be paid for their personal data?

IOT devices may be available but they are not particularly cheap so a smart home installation in an existing home might cost as much as $5000 (2019). An installation in a newly built residence may cost even more as more features could be added in a new build. Even at 2019 prices, a lot of energy would have to be saved to offset a $5000 spend.

(for example, even a 20% saving each year on a $2000 annual electricity bill is $400 so it would not pay back for 12.5 years, assuming no inflation or consideration of the investment return of the $5000 if not spent [ie opportunity cost].)

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